Category Archives: discipleship

Holding Two Stories at Once

Desperately broken. Deeply loved. Capable of creating hurt. Capable of creating beauty.

The gospel has us hold two stories that seem conflicting at once. Just like babies who developmentally can only hold one item at a time, we tend to want to hold one or the other, making an either/or out of God’s greatest both/and.

Maturity in the gospel, it seems, can be measured by our ability to increasingly hold both of these realities at once, both for ourselves and for others.

Just as in the garden, God left space in the newly minted (from his mouth) earthly paradise for Adam and Eve to choose to love him and trust him, the gospel leaves space for us to trust him by holding the two tensions of the gospel.

When we bifurcate these two realities, we are endangering ourselves and others.

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If, when people fail us or hurt us, we immediately and forever label them as only desperately broken, we are truncating the gospel which hurts the heart of the God who gave it to us. We throw them in a pit that God climbed in to rescue them (and us) from. Similarly, if when we ourselves fail or fall into sin, we remember only the brokenness that remains in ourselves, we throw ourselves into the same pit.

If, on the other hand, we expect brothers and sisters in Christ (and ourselves) to perform perfectly. we place them on a pedestal on which only Christ belongs. Likewise, if we expect ourselves to perfectly perform in all our relationships and endeavors, we will be crippled and eventually paralyzed. If we think we are performing well, we will wreak of self-righteousness which wreaks to God. If and when we fail, we find ourselves drowning in the shame that Christ bore once and for all in His body on the cross.

I know this. I know you know this. But, at heart, I don’t know this, nor do we.

Every time I hurt someone or am hurt by someone in the body, which happens more often than I care to imagine, I am tempted to fall from the glorious both/and of the gospel into the bifurcated, binary system of either/or. Through my broken lenses, either they are bad or they are good, for me or against me (or my cause). They belong either in a pit or on a pedestal. When I get to these places, the Holy Spirit sends up a flair to the Father and puts me in gospel triage.

I cannot see the world and the height of his creation (humanity) through a lens that my Father does not. It goes against Christ-in-me and the gospel on which I depend and which I am to declare.

The only way I know how to get from the broken lenses of my flesh and my frailty to the glorious lenses of the gospel is to follow Christ’s journey from the heights of heaven to the pits of sin and shame and back up to the righthand of the Father from whence he came.

I belong in the pit. The person who wronged me belongs in the pit. The person who wronged and hurt the person who wronged and hurt me belongs in the pit. The pit is wide enough to hold all humanity.

But compassion for us in the pit and obedience to the Father compelled our Christ down.  He left the heights to join us on the globe he created, orbiting around the sun whom he sourced. He walked with broken and beautiful people who were desperately broken and deeply loved. In fact, he walked himself up the Hill of the Skull carrying a splintered beam on his beloved back to rescue us from our sin and shame. He sat in that pit for three days. And creation wept at the thought that the light of the world had been extinguished.

But then he rose. And in so doing, he created space for us to be both desperately broken and deeply loved. He climbed the pedestal that belongs only to Him, but he invites us to be wrapped in him and enjoy his privileged place.

I cannot hold someone, be it another or myself, in the pit when Christ raised us up with him. I cannot expect someone,  be it myself or another, to live up to the perfect standard that Christ came to fulfill.

This is the gospel. To believe this both/and for myself and others is the great fight of faith that the Apostle Paul wrote about. The more I believe it and receive it for myself, the more I will be freed to invite others out of pits or off pedestals. It will be a fight, and it won’t be easy, but it is worth it because Christ is worthy.

The Difference Between Submission & Resignation

“There is a significant difference between submission and resignation.”

I don’t remember the full details of the context, but I will never forget the phrase uttered our dear friend and mentor, Judge Bill McCurine. I believe we were having a college gathering in their home, a chance for brand new believers in the beginning of their spiritual journeys to learn from two seasoned veterans of the faith. I believe someone asked about trusting God with singleness. To be honest, I am thankful I don’t remember the immediate context, because the phrase has led to rich application in nearly every arena of my life.

The Difference Defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary,  resignation means, “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.”  In fact, the usage example says “i.e. a shrug of resignation.”

I, along with the rest of the Chick-fil-A loving hordes, sigh in resignation every Sunday when we, like clockwork, have a craving for a sandwich and waffle fries, only  to remember it is closed on Sunday.

On the surface, resignation bends the will, changes the schedule, and faces the reality of something unwanted; however, under the surface, at the soul and heart level, it can leave an insidious residue of bitterness, distrust, and frustration. Much like the teenage, “Fine” that is accompanied by huffing, puffing, and foot-stomping, resignation bows but does not fully trust.

Submission, on the other hand, is something altogether different. While they may appear almost identical initially, the degrees of separation between resignation and submission become more evident over time.

Biblical submission is much different than the world’s version which seems often to include force and demonstrations of raw authority and power. The Greek word, hupotasso, translated submit, is a compounding of two words, one meaning “under” and the other meaning “arrangement.” Thus, a biblical definition of submission is to place yourself under God’s arrangement of things, to submit under the Lord’s plan in trusting obedience.

While its outward bowing and releasing of control mirror resignation,  its internal source is quite different. Rather than sighing out of inability to change something, it sighs and submits in a trusting way,  believing that the heart of God knows and does better than we could ever know or do.

The Difference Experienced
If  I am being honest, I my soul has been swinging back and forth between resignation and submission these past few weeks since COVID-19 settled in to stay. If you know me, you know that my Sabbath time on Sundays is my lifeline.  Since my oldest was a  few weeks old,  I have been escaping away to a coffee shop for vital connection with God through His word and prayer and wrestling. As silly as it may seem, the getting away feels like going to a secret place to be alone with the Lord, not as a mother or a women’s ministry director or a wife, just as his desperate daughter.

Another example of my routine being off. I resigned to Sabbath by walking our neighborhood, but I was not happy about it, as evidenced by my pace and posture. A fuming little teapot speed-walking through the neighborhood was I. It was not just the monkey wrench in my treasured Sabbath rhythm, it was all of  it.  Disinfecting groceries, Zoom phone calls instead of face-to-face gatherings, tight spaces and tighter wallets.

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But in that walk, the Lord reminded me that this is not what trusting submission looks like. He began to undo my  grumpy heart and remind me of the absolutely proven nature of his love.

Stay

The too-much-ness out there,
Draws out ineptness in here.
What busyness used to filter,
Now gathers in latent fear.

Your love blocked all my exits,
Enticing my going soul to stay.
Fleeting flings aren’t enough:
You would have me all the day.

It’s scary to sit so still, so long,
Without demand or distraction.
You want uninsulated intimacy,
The whole of me, not a fraction.

Your blocking love can be trusted,
When the checking seems unchecked,
For You died to unblock life eternal,
Giving abundance for my neglect.

Though chosen,  I feel choice-less,
Yet an important choice remains;
Resign in apathy or submit in love.
Your submission my choice trains.

So, stay I must but also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
Come again You can and will.
Your word is sure as the dawn.

May we learn to submit this season to a trustworthy Father rather than resign in avowed apathy.  This too shall pass.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. Psalm 31: 21.

 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

Right-sizing Summer

Expectations on summer somehow grew to exponential proportions in my momma heart. I did not realize the pressure I felt until tears were welling up in my eyes today.

When I look back on the summers of my childhood, I can taste ice cream cones, smell the chlorine of the pool, and feel the thick layers of neon zinc oxide gathering on my freckled nose. I am sure my mother remembered soggy wet towels and being our sherpa as we lugged supplies to the beach at Avon-by-the-Sea. But I don’t remember those.

The happy memories of summer, along with those memes that circulate to remind us that we only have eighteen juicy summers with our children, are not intended to heap pressure on already haggard momma souls. Nevertheless, they do.

I have the same internal wrestling match seasonally; however, this year the expectations feel more heightened because of the preceding months of a pandemic.  We have already been living the summer life of staying up later, lazy mornings, and dinners outside on the porch for a few months. While we have loved this slower pace, the end of school did not usher in a new season. It led us into more of the same without an idea of what the fall might hold.

We are not summer-camp-every-week people, but we do usually have a few exciting events that punctuate and give shape to our summer season. Those are not happening, which heaps more pressure on me to give shape to our days. Our growing boys are so hungry for friendships, but zoom calls are no longer packing the same punch. We are committed to fighting the good fight against the encroachment of screens, but such a fight is exhausting.

All these realities compounded with the complexity of social distancing and walking in wisdom leave me feeling frail, fragile, and faulty as a momma. I assume I am not alone. When I hit this wall, I need my perspective adjusted and put back into its proper place. I need the Scriptures, not nostalgia, the consumer market, or the newsfeeds of friends, to inform my summer.

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Repentance > Resorts
I need repentance, not a resort. I find myself daydreaming of a vacation on the Mexican peninsula and imagining that having a pool would cure my discontentment and restlessness.  But my issue is not our location, it is my idolatry of rest and comfort and quiet. I have bought the lie that summer exists to make me and my children happy and shiny (both literally and figuratively). I have forgotten that the chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.

I have been daydreaming about escaping on the highway and missing opportunities right here at my house to travel the byways into my children’s hearts that are set before me. The little squabbles are opportunities to train my children. The windows of boredom can also be doors into creativity and a cultivated contentment that takes practice. It seems that as much as they need to be trained, my own heart needs to be retrained and refined.

Sanctification does not take a summer break. Motherhood does not offer a sabbatical. But God knows these realities and has promised His steady provision and sustenance even in the summer when our budgets and our patience are simultaneously stretched.

For thus said the Lord  God, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. 

Vivification > Vacation
I need vivification, not vacation. As much as we want a change of location and a change of the monotony of the past few months, my soul needs to re-home itself in the Lord and His ways. While I want to float in a lazy river and read in a hammock, what I need is for my soul to be refreshed by the Word of God.

Reviving the soul. Rejoicing the heart. Enlightening the eyes. While these may sound like an add for a vacation rental, they are promises that come from God Himself.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Psalm 19:7-8.  

Rest in the midst of the ordinary; peace in the midst of the pressure; purpose even when a pandemic has life and summer plans on halt. These provisions of the Holy Spirit are helping to right-size our summer.

 

Rods & Rings

Having recently rewatched Selma, I’ve had rods on my mind. The way the officers used their batons (among other weapons) as rods of undeserved wrath on nonviolent protestors has been burned on my brain. The present context where racist police brutality has been on the forefront only serves to highlight the way the King of Kings and Lord of Lords uses the rod.

Psalm 45 begins on a happy note as a wedding song. While it may have signified an actual wedding between two high-ranking people, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit indues it with deeper meaning as an analogy between Christ, the groom, and His bride, the church.

The first half of the Psalm (verses 2-9) paints a portrait of the groom beginning with “You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips;  therefore God has blessed you forever” (Psalm 45:2). The second half (verses 10-17) paints a picture of the doting bride, beginning with “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and include your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Psalm 45:10). 

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Rods

After having introduced the sweet-lipped, strong-armed groom, the writer begins to talk about his manner of ruling. Thus, the rod enters the wedding psalm as something used righteously in the hand of the righteous one. The Hebrew word shebet translated scepter literally means rod or club.

In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!…Your throne, O God is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of righteousness. (Psalm 45:2-4 & 6). 

Unlike the batons used to beat law-abiding protestors, this baton is a symbol of security  and justice. The lacing together of humility and meekness with strength and justice should shock us because they are so rarely found living in unison. However, in Christ, the King, they are inextricably bound together. The King who rode into Bethlehem meekly on a donkey proclaiming peace (Matthew 21:1-11) will return on a white horse ready for the final judgement of all evil  (Revelation 19:11-16).

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords  (Revelation 19:1:11 & 15-16). 

Our husband and king is not an ivory-tower bystander who only reads about injustice. He led the charge on injustice by showing his great power expressed in unthinkable humility first on the donkey then finally on the cross. Though He was the one who from all eternity had wielded the rod of uprightness, He was beaten and bloodied by weapons used unjustly on himself.

He fully and completely understands and hates injustice. And soon and very soon, He will return ready to finish the battle that has already been won. In his forever rule and reign in the New Heavens and the New Earth, weapons will be smelted into tools for construction like plowshares. Rods will no longer be used as tools of shame and racism.

Until then, we are called to be his bride who shares his love for uprightness and hatred for wickedness.

Rings

When we understand the altogether perfection of our groom, it is a fitting response to be ready to leave everything to be altogether his. His loves become our loves, His hatreds become our hatreds. He holds the rod and we proudly wear the ring of His covenant love,

Since he is your lord, bow to him. (Psalm 45:11). 

We are called to be ready to leave all that is familiar and ingrained us by our families and shaping cultures to be one with our glorious groom. He sets the standards. We do the bowing and leave the blessing to him. We forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13-14), we take on the nature of our groom and become the aroma of his coming kingdom.

 

Quilts of Influence

For many, Brother Andrew is a household hero name. God used his adventure-seeking personality to help strengthen the believing church behind the Iron Curtain of communism. He experienced incredible miracles sneaking Bibles and gospel tracts into countries where hundreds of believers had to share a few Bibles. His life left ripples into eternity.

As my son and I have been reading about his life, I have been struck by the colorful and diverse group of people who influenced and shaped Brother Andrew. A stunning quilt of influence shaped this young man who shaped the course of redemptive history in Europe.

The Whetstras. Uncle and Mother Hoppy. Karl de Graff’s prayer group. Though their names are not well known, their influence in the kingdom of God through their influence on Brother Andrew is unmistakable.

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The Whetstras loved a wild and rebellious young boy who was a constant nuisance through his teenage years into faith and beyond. They gave him their brand new car in a time when a car was a rare and prized possession. Uncle and Mother Hoppy took in Andrew when he was a brand new believer waiting for a spot in a ministry training program. They modeled care for the forgotten and the unseen. They fed his body as well as his soul.

Karl de Graff faithfully prayed for Andrew, knowing through the prompting of the Holy Spirit his needs before he himself did. He offered to teach Andrew how to drive long before Andrew knew he would need a car to deliver Bibles or was offered the car from the Whetstras. While these moments of care, hospitality, and training might seem small and even seemingly insignificant by themselves, God sewed them together into the most beautiful quilt of influence to shape Brother Andrew and the lives of believers struggling under communist regimes.

As believers, we each have our own quilt of influence. We each have a beautiful patchwork of people and moments that God has used to shape and train us into who we are and are still becoming today. Conversations around a table, moments of people modeling the life of faith, offers of housing, food, and encouragement. God uses these small and often largely unconscious moments to do huge things in hearts and minds. At the same time, God invites us to invite others into our lives’ little and big moments.

By faithfully loving our neighbors and/or children, inviting people into our hearts, and opening up our bank accounts and homes (when and where appropriate in these strange times), we might be able to become to others what the Whetstras, Uncle and Mother Hoppy, and Karl de Graff were to Brother Andrew. In the book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter uses the word poikilos, an interesting word meaning many-colored or variegated.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter speaks of the many-colored trials that have been experienced through in the diversity of the body of believers. Later in in the same letter, Peter uses the same colorful language to speak about the beautiful diversity of gifts and experiences given to the body of Christ.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10).

A quilt of all one color and stitch would be terribly boring. Our many-faceted, multi-colored God splinters His beauty into the lives of His children through many-colored threads of many different lives and gifts. May we trace the varied patterns and pieces of our own quilts of influence and may we eagerly invest in the lives of others, thereby becoming minor or major patches in their quilts of influence. After all, you never know when the next Brother Andrew or Corrie ten Boom is sitting in your class, eating at your table, or watching your life

Feasting in the Midst of the Mess

Picnics are my love language. Something magical happens when I load up my motley crew, fill the saddle bags with snacks and head to an outdoor space. I love the act of spreading out our massive, well-worn blanket. I love creating a little haven, even if it is only 36 square feet. I love how my children return intermittently to the blanket after roaming, scavenging, sliding or swinging. I love how picnics provide little patches of peace in the midst of the mess that is real life.

Lately, the Lord has been inviting me, in the most tender yet tenacious way, to picnic with Him. Not next week, not when the house is cleaned or the kids are well, not when my marriage is stronger or when my friendships are less messy, but right now, in the midst of the mess.

The Lord told us Himself “sufficient is the day for its trouble,” meaning each day will have messes all its own. We tend to be a people who insistently trust that “in the next season,” things will be neater, easier, less busy. We power our way through to-do lists, seasons of sickness and endless doctors appointments, unwanted singleness or hard marriages, thinking that once we get to “the other side,” we will enjoy God’s peace and person to a greater degree; however, “the other side” continues to be pushed into the future, swallowing up all our todays.

I am guilty of listening to the voice that says, quite loudly, “After this load of laundry,” or “Once I have the children down,” or “When the Church gets through this crazy season.” But lately, the Lord has been doing the sweetest thing. In those moments of mess, He has been unfolding a blanket and spreading it out right there, on top of a layer of a real life. I can almost literally hear the crisp snap of a blanket, His way of inviting me to come and feast with Him right now, right here.

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It is so tempting to want to clean up the mess, the spilled milk of a marriage that has been worn thin, the piles of friendships that could use a little TLC, the stubborn stains of personal failures that need addressing. It is in our fallen nature to want to clean up before we commune. If this is true of our friends and family, how much more so when the communion is with the Lord Himself.

If our fellowship with Him and our ability to enjoy His peace and presence depend on the mess being cleaned up,ordered and organized, we will never experience the gifts He purchased for us at so great a price.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.  Psalm 23:5.

I have always wondered about this line in the 23rd Psalm. In the midst of a such a melodic psalm of peace and promise, the idea of supping in the midst of angry enemies sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Who would want to do that? I’d much rather the meal be a celebration of enemies taken care of, conquered and subdued than a meal eaten in the presence of danger, dis-ease, or disappointment.

The snapping of the Lord’s picnic blanket in the midst of messy life with messy family, friends and circumstances has changed the way I read that troublesome line. What used to sound uncomfortable and unappealing to me, a meal in the presence of problems, is beginning to sound like the tender whisper of a lover to come join Him. “Don’t clean up, don’t wait, just come join me. Now, yes, now, even in the midst of the messes within and around you.”

In one such moment this week, when the Lord had invited me to His picnic blanket in the midst cankerous and uncertain circumstances, He took our picnic peace to the next level through His Word.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Isaiah 25:6-8. 

Jesus is the feast that He invites me to daily. He is the richest of foods and His spilled blood is the finest wine.  And even though we live in and among persons with internal messes and places with external messes, He cleaned up the biggest mess. Death has been neutered, declawed and destroyed by Him.

I can come join Him on the picnic blanket in the midst of these little messes because He was faithful and fierce with the biggest mess. If He accomplished the greater, He can most assuredly accomplish the lesser. My fellowship with Him, my enjoyment of the peace He need not wait until the minute messes are tidied. He spreads out His picnic blanket for me right here, right now, in the midst of them.

Come, all you are who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me, listen to me, that your soul may life. Isaiah 55: 1-3.

 

 

 

A Powerful Pair

When I think of significant pairings, the North Pole and the South Pole, salt and pepper, and ketchup and mustard come immediately to mind.

Of late, Eugene Peterson has added another significant though strange pairing to my list of power couples: geography and eschatology.  As odd as it sounds, this pair has been shaping and sustaining my soul as I fight to press on in the exhausting and exhilarating work of vocational ministry.

In Peterson’s book Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, he shares with his readers the tensions that he felt in his soul as a professional Christian by tracing his own pastoral experience through  the contours of the story of Jonah. One of the tensions that he said kept his soul intact in the work of ministry was the polarity of geography and eschatology.

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The Terms
By geography, Peterson means both more and less than the study of the physical features of the earth. He uses the term to describe the physical place and people to whom God has called you as a minister of the gospel and a shepherd of souls. He uses the term geography to call to mind and memory your particular point on the map and period in history. He means your pews and those who people them, the unique beauty and brokenness of your zip code, and the unique idols and ideals of your congregation in your historical moment (see 1 Peter 5:2).

By eschatology,  Peterson means both more and less than the theological study of the death, judgement and the destiny of the soul. He uses the term to describe the lasting things, the ultimate end-game of ministry and humanity. Using this term, he reminds pastors and spiritual leaders to remember that our faith is a future-oriented one fighting to have eternal aims in a “now-oriented religion” (see Colossians 3:1-3).

The two must always be yoked together in our hearts and minds if we are going to faithfully serve in pastoral or vocational ministry roles.

“Either without its biblical partner falsifies the pastoral vocation. Both are necessary –  equally yoked….Geography without eschatology becomes mere religious landscaping, growing a few flowers, mowing the lawn, pulling out the crabgrass, making life as comfortable as possible under the circumstances…Eschatology  without geography degenerates into religious science fiction. It imagines lurid scenarios of heaven and hell,  quite ignoring the gospel essentials of love and hope and faith…”

The Tension
As in most polarities and tensions, it is all-too-easy to swing the pendulum one way or the other.  When we are only thinking about geography, we can get so sucked into our particular moment in time and the demands and needs of our congregation and culture  that we lose sight of our purpose. While we are called to serve our particular people and place, we not called to coddle our congregations or pander to the pews. We are called to point them to the lasting hope of gospel with its tangible teleos of the second coming of Christ who will forever wed the new heavens and the new earth. While we are called to engage in current events, we are not to get so stuck in them that we forget our long-term goal and hope. We must remind them and ourselves that God’s people have been called to be a waiting and long-sighted people. We are not to live in short-sighted hope that a political party, a movement, or even a cultural moment will give us the progress and peace we are seeking. Only Christ can do that.

On the other hand, it is also far-too-easy to be so theologically set on the eternal ends that we forget that our geography matters. Sometimes Reformed circles are accused of being  the frozen chosen, those who are so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good. I know that I have been stuck in that ditch many times until someone or something yanks me back to the reality of the here and now that matter to God. Yes, our eschatological hope is the ultimate end, but God means to continue the spread and advance of His kingdom in our particular place and time through the conforming of our particular people to the image of Christ. We cannot gloss over current events and the felt and festering needs of the people around us, glibly pointing to future glory. We must get our  hands dirty in the geography to which we have been called.

In the midst of our chaotic cultural moment where a pandemic intersects with a polarized and politically-charged election season which intersects with a nation shaken by systemic racism, we desperately need to live in the tension of this powerful pair.

 

 

 

The Need for Nathans

If you have ever found great solace in praying the Psalms of David, you have Nathan to thank. Had he not been brave enough to confront his friend, who knows where David may have ended up.

Though we neither talk about him often nor know much about him, we are indebted to Nathan’s faithfulness and responsiveness to the Lord in the highly undesirable task of confronting David  (2 Samuel 12) after his flop into adultery and subsequent cover-up attempt.

In a culture that touts tolerance and choice as the highest values, there is a desperate need in the Church for Nathans, those friends who are willing to lovingly point out blindspots or sinspots in our lives.

My husband is a Nathan to me when he points out the puddle of self-pity I sink into cyclically. Likewise, my mom friends act as necessary Nathans to me when they pull me back from my exaggerated pendulum swings between training and treasuring my children.

I am a Nathan to the young ladies I mentor when I tremblingly poke around and point toward destructive patterns in their lives. With my own children, I play the role of Nathan by relationally but firmly addressing their germinal sinful tendencies that, left unquestioned or ignored, would destroy them later in life.

In the course of the faithful Christian life, we will need both to be and to receive Nathans until that glorious day when sin and brokenness will be no more.

Being a Nathan

God neither commnds nor desires His children to be whistle-carrying Junior Holy Spirit types. The Spirit of God is powerful enough, and He will blow where He pleases (John 3:8). He, not we, will convict in regards to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). That being said, often the Lord speaks through His children, asking them to step in as trembling yet willing vessels.

Matthew 18 clearly lays out the protocol for conflict and confrontation within the body of Christ, straight from the mouth of Jesus. Straight forward, yes. Easy, no.

The Apostle Paul, who had more than his fair share of experience in the confrontation department, offered advice to the young Churches he coached on confronting one another in love and humility.  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1). Paul realized how quickly the sin of the brother could be overshadowed by the confronter’s sin of pride or superiority.

I do not picture Nathan chomping at the bit to confront David, the powerful ruler who has just had Uriah killed in an attempt to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba.  Rather, I imagine Nathan wrestling with the Lord over this assignment, spending many sleeples nights praying and pondering if there might be another prophet or friend willing to take this terrifying task.

Yet, in trembling faithfulness to God who prompted him and in a love for David strong enough to wound him, he boldly approached him. Nathan was willing to uncover his friend’s sin that he might be covered in forgiveness and restored.

Thankfully, David received the wounds of a friend in a Spirit-filled way, responding with the flood of earnest repentance that we know as Psalm 51. Perhaps Solomon was taught Proverbs 27: 5-6 firsthand by his father David who had learned it firsthand in his experience with Nathan.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy. 

God uses Nathans for course correction and restoration in our lives, just as He did so powerfully and poignantly in the life of David. We all need a trusted few in our lives who love us enough to offer us the corrective wounds of a friend over the little or the large sin patterns in our lies.

Receiving a Nathan

While none of us want to find ourselves on the receiving end of loving gospel-saturated confrontation, life in sinful bodies on a fallen globe assures us we will, indeed, sit in that scary seat from time to time.

I love David’s succint response to Nathan. No lengthy justifications, no excuses, just, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). David received what his friend came to say, then took it to the Lord (see Psalms 32 and 51).

Not everyone who confronts us will be a Nathan sent directly by the Lord; sometimes people will approach with false or misinformed accusations. It is our job to listen humbly to what is said and lay it before the Lord and the Word. Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139). 

If, however, there are even seeds of truth in what has been said, we have been given an incredible, though often unwanted gift: an opportunity to repent and run to the Lord. As David wrote so beautifully and experienced so personally, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered….I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin'” (Psalm 32:1 & 5). 

In the moments of confrontation, we may be pulsing more with defensiveness than gratitude; however, we would do well to take a moment to remember that Nathans are gifts from God.

It is a rare treasure to have friends who who love us enough to hold us to being and becoming the glory selves that God has intended for us since before the foundation of the world.

In a culture that tends to know only two ways, false flattery or brutal honesty, believers have an opporunity to display the gospel by way of loving, gospel-saturated confrontation.

 

 

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one (as normal as a week during Covid in California can be). But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets